Rowan Pelling: Fed up with being just plain Jane? Well, ditch her. Be Marilyn instead

Modern women have the right to be whoever they want - just look at Jordan. One problem: people may think you're bonkers

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There are many mechanisms for coping with a dreary existence on this planet. I particularly admire the gambit where someone goes to bed plain Jane Smith and awakes knowing she's the last direct heir to the lost throne of Atlantis. Only last week the Californian psychiatrist of Canadian singer Sherrie Lea Laird announced to a startled world that he supports her claims to be the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe. After all, she can pick out Monroe's maiden aunts in photos and the actress played a singer called Cherie in Bus Stop. Spooky, huh?

Throughout the 20th century every other Eastern European émigrée to the US claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, according to popular legend the only member of the Romanov family to escape assassination by the Bolsheviks. One day you're nobody, the next you're busy recovering memories of mama's dress at the Winter Ball and tea with Rasputin.

The big plus to this harmless bit of escapism is that you can usually wrestle a best-selling book from your moment of revelation. My older sister and I as teenagers both lapped up Peter Kurth's 1983 best-seller, Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson (the most notorious claimant to the dead duchess's shoes). What was not to adore? All teens harbour daydreams of discovering that the freaks who claim to be their family aren't really blood relatives.

I've no doubt that thousands of hormonally-challenged young women will be similarly enraptured by Kathleen McGowan's The Expected One. This "semi-autobiographical novel", as McGowan terms it, is yet another trot through the myths surrounding Mary Magdalene, arguing that she married Jesus, had a child, moved to France, where believers conspired to protect her identity, blah blah blah. But where McGowan holds a trump card over Dan Brown is in her claims of divine revelation. First there was the dream that inspired her to write the book, in which she saw a desperate woman at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday: "The woman's eyes, huge and bright with un-shed tears, fell somewhere in the colour spectrum between amber and sage, an extraordinary light hazel that reflected infinite wisdom and unbearable sadness in one heart-searing blend." Ah yes, prose that falls somewhere in the colour spectrum between Imperial purple and Barbie pink, a light version of literature that reflects infinite tosh and unbearable tedium in one soul-sapping blend.

After the dream, McGowan won £5,000 on a game show, miraculously just enough to finance a trip to Jerusalem where a "small man ...who somehow knew my name" materialised and directed her to places associated with Mary Magdalene (possibly her tour guide?). But here's the clincher: while in France, McGowan was told that her maternal grandmother's name, Paschal, "is very important in the legends of Mary Magdalene".

C'mon, you can see where this is leading. Kathleen McGowan is only the direct descendant of Jesus and his missus. As she herself says: "Yes, I do stand in front of the mirror sometimes and see the similarities between myself and Mary Magdalene. I'm small ... my hair is strawberry blonde and my eyes are green." Just what you'd expect of a woman living in the Middle East in Biblical times.

I mean, why should the living manifestation of God's bloodline on earth looklike Audrey Tautou in The Da Vinci Code? Isn't it more likely she'd be a frowsy middle-aged housewife from LA with a gift for popular fiction?

As Digby Halsby, of Simon & Schuster (McGowan's UK publishers) said, while trying not to choke on a pretzel: "She makes a very convincing argument."

I have to admit I'm jealous of McGowan. What woman hasn't dreamed of dumping her own persona mid-stream and reinventing herself? (As a country and western star, in my case.) Isn't that what plastic surgery's all about? You go under as Katie Price and awake to find yourself Jordan.

It's no wonder women's imaginations dwell so readily on improbable transformations: the most potent myth directed at the young female is the Cinderella story. Mandy magazine, which I gorged on as a child, ran a non-stop diet of tragic orphans triumphing over matron, bitches and leg-braces to become stars of ballet, stage and gymkhana.

Men are invulnerable to this myth. Boys inherit the legacy of St George: that there's something huge out there which they must use courage, strength and wit to outmanoeuvre. Young men effect their own triumphs. But then so do women such as Kathleen McGowan.

For those females who exit their teens more duck than swan, any future transformation is a matter of will power: it's under the scalpel or release your inner Grand Duchess. And I, for one, am inclined to find those who forge their own dramatic, if improbable, metamorphoses the more admirable.

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